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Planning for success: Oregon

11/11/2014

Despite silencing the Utah crowd, Oregon staggered out of Salt Lake City Saturday. The injury bug bit again, and this time it hit the Ducks in some particularly painful spots.

Tight end Pharaoh Brown remains at the University of Utah Hospital following a non-contact leg injury that was deemed too gruesome for television replays. He's certainly done for the season, while center Hroniss Grasu may also be lost for at least some time. Oregon has not commented on the extent of his leg injury.

Brown is tied for the team lead with six touchdown catches, while some consider Grasu to be the most integral part of the offense outside Marcus Mariota. The center position is typically responsible for coordinating communication along the offensive line.

If they are to win the Pac-12 and fulfill their longtime goal of winning a national championship, the Ducks are now tasked with absorbing both gut punches. They may have dodged a bullet on a third: Cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu -- who wore a protective boot following the Utah game -- has said he expects to play in Oregon's next contest, a Nov. 22 date with Colorado.

Regarding the rest of the bad news, there's a sliver of potential positivity for Mark Helfrich, and it comes in the form of timing. Oregon clinched the Pac-12 North with its 51-27 win at Utah, and it seems that their bye week couldn't have come at a better time. The inactivity will be followed by that aforementioned game against the Buffs and a Civil War bus ride to face struggling Oregon State. Those two opponents are a combined 1-12 in conference play, so the Ducks will be heavily favored in both contests.

This, then, is a prime opportunity for Oregon to polish its contingency plans. If Grasu does indeed miss extended time, the Ducks should have a window of opportunity to acclimate reserve Doug Brenner at center. They also have the nation's top-rated quarterback in Mariota, and he should have time to adapt to life without Brown as a target in the red zone.

Helfrich seems intent on milking any possible bit of good from an injury situation that's obviously less than ideal, and that's important, too.

"Going forward, it's a long process, but [Brown is] a competitive guy and it's already galvanized our team," the coach told reporters Sunday. "We walk into the locker room [Saturday] night coming off the field and it was an unbelievable situation, a tough situation that just reveals more and more about our guys that we like."

Oregon will need toughness and discipline from those players now. The Ducks fought back from their lone loss to Arizona admirably, ripping off five straight wins on their path to prime College Football Playoff positioning. Now, with more detours standing in their way, Oregon must leverage the current schedule respite into a recovery period that prepares the club to overcome the daunting challenges looming beyond. The Pac-12 title game is Dec. 5, and the College Football Playoff looms after that.